Even as bucket list items, trying to pick a favorite Traveling Wildcats trip has proven to be an almost impossible task for University of Kentucky alumni George and Valerie Wright.
The Wrights have taken four tours with Traveling Wildcats over the years – Sicily, the Galapagos Islands, Alaska and Churchill, Canada.
“If you look at those four trips, they are all incredible. And all of them were different. We went to the Galapagos Islands last year, and it was beautiful beyond belief,” says George Wright ’72 ’74 AS, the retired president of Prairie View A&M University in Texas.
“The polar bears and the Galapagos Islands were two of my bucket list items. You have to have a lot of stamina to do the Galapagos trip. But it was all rewarding. For me, the benefit was spending time in Ecuador. That was a learning experience,” says Valerie Ellison Wright ’72 CI, a 2018 inductee into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. “And that is part of what our travel is about, learning while traveling.”
George Wright says the Traveling Wildcats trips are perfect because “everything is taken care of.”
“There were no glitches, it was just so smooth. We’ve always been interested in travel, and for a period of time the two of us would plot it out ourselves,” he says. “But these trips seem very in-depth. I think a lot of the great things we went to in Sicily and things we saw were those planned activities. I like how everything is planned out in that regard. Someone else does the legwork.”
Valerie Wright echoed her husband’s sentiments, saying the trips give you glimpses of places outside of the typical tourist spots.
“In Sicily, we got to see the whole island. I don’t think we would have seen that much on our own. And that’s what those trips are about, getting off the beaten path,” she says. “You see the highlights, but you get side trips to a farm that’s off the beaten path. That’s what makes it interesting.
“And in certain countries, it’s good to have someone doing the driving and taking you places if you can’t do public transportation.”
Safety is also a drawing card.
“When you land at the Galapagos Islands, there is someone at the airport with a sign looking for you. It’s reassuring. And frankly, to just not have to worry about your bags makes it easy,” George Wright says. “Just have plenty of energy, because you are on the go. Alaska turned out to be a nice 10-day cruise. We hadn’t done one that length. And we enjoyed the ship and accommodations and everything. I personally like having it planned out. For us, we’re on a vacation. We’ll catch our breath when we get home.”
But getting back to a favorite trip. When they think about it, the Wrights agree the polar bears of the Churchill trip had something special, which made it stand out.
“Especially for folks like us who really dislike cold weather,” he says. “And it was frigid cold. But we loved it. Going to real cold places, seeing the polar bears and learning about them, this is stuff you learned back in elementary school. Then seeing them, you almost forget that it is real. Once you’re there, you see how it all connects. And we learned so much. We learned about climate change and what it does to that area in the long run. For people like us who dislike cold to go to a place like that and enjoy ourselves and get out and walk around was wonderful.”
Even a slight detour didn’t put a damper on the Wrights’ vacation. Flying from Winnipeg, their destination was iced over, so they flew 300 miles north to Rankin Inlet for half of a day.
“All of that was an adventure,” he says. “That’s what made it so special. It was just so different.”
Their travels may not be over, either.
George Wright will be a visiting professor at UK for the 2019-2020 school year as a part of the university-wide 70 Years of Integration celebration. While this will limit their travel that year, with their 50th anniversary coming up, the Wrights say they are eyeing a special trip to mark the occasion.
“We’re definitely interested in taking another trip at some point,” George Wright says.
“We’re still throwing Antarctica around. It’s still on our list of places to ponder,” says Valerie Wright. “And I’ve always wanted to see the Taj Mahal.”
To learn more about the travel program through the UK Alumni Association, visit www.ukalumni.net/travel.
Story by Hal Morris